Thursday, November 16, 2006

Exposing Anti-Semitism... Nice. I Like

I have not yet seen the Borat movie, and still don't know if I will (I feel like I've seen half of it in clips, anyway), but a note on Sasha Baron Cohen, the brainchild behind "Borat" and "Ali G". People complain that some of his stuff is anti-Semitic (say, "Throw the Jew Down the Well!"), that it incites people against Jews, etc.

I (and I'm sure I'm not alone) have always thought these people completely miss the point, and not only because he's so obviously Jewish, or because his Khazakstanian is really Hebrew with a bad accent. His point, as a surprise comedian, is to get people to express their hidden feelings and biases when they think that the person they're talking to agrees with them fully. The problem is not that "Borat" is singing that we should kill all the Jews to free "his country", the problem is that a bar full of people join in gustily and sing right on along with him. The problem isn't that he says he wants to go "Jew-hunting", the problem is that the guy he asks about it says he wouldn't mind, but the government would.

Sick of some of the stupid criticisms he's received, Cohen spoke out today and said basically the same thing. It's a good piece, check it out. Meanwhile, here's an excerpt: (He keeps kosher! Who knew?!)
In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, the 35-year-old British writer-actor defends his controversial film, saying, "I think part of the movie shows the absurdity of holding any form of racial prejudice, whether it's hatred of African-Americans or of Jews."

"Borat essentially works as a tool," says Baron Cohen. "By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it's anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism."

In fact, Baron Cohen, a devout Jew who keeps kosher, says his parents "love" the Jewish humor in Borat. And his 91-year-old maternal grandmother even went to a midnight screening in Israel, then called him at 4 a.m. to compliment her grandson and to discuss the movie.

So what led the Cambridge-educated funnyman to mine this particular brand of humor? Baron Cohen says studying a major historian of the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw, whose quote, "The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference" got him thinking.

"I know it's not very funny being a comedian talking about the Holocaust, but I think it's an interesting idea that not everyone in Germany had to be a raving anti-Semite. They just had to be apathetic."